Archive for December, 2011

Readings and Reflections on Time for New Years

December 30, 2011 - 8:16 pm 2 Comments

 

New Years and thoughts on time

From  T.S. Eliot:

Time present, and time past are both perhaps present in time future And time future is contained in time past….

For The New Year: Henry David Thoreau

       On Life’s Purpose

I wish to begin this [year] well; to do something in it that is worthy of it and me;     to transcend my daily routine; to have my immortality now; in the quality of my daily life. May I dare as I have never done.  May I attain to a youth never attained. I am eager to report the glory of the universe; may I be worthy of it, for it is [only] reasonable that we should be more worthy [of life] at the end of each year, than at its beginning.

from Dr. Viktor Frankl

In the concentration camp, we needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life itself, daily-hourly.  Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking responsibility to find the right answers to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.

Steven Levine

Much has been said about the concept that we are “wounded healers.” That we learn from our own pain how best to address the pain we see in others. My spinal pain has taught me something about the reintegration of the heart, which is reflected in the body… A softening around pain, an investigation of my incessant resistance to accept, and the despair that is manifest in my desire to escape. At first, all I ever sought to learn from my pain is how to negate or relieve it. Then after learning that there was no easy relief, I asked one of my teachers how best to let go or accept this pain I have to contend with daily. His answer was one that propelled me further into my spiritual path than any other piece of advice I have received. It is a starling wisdom that I will never forget. He said, ” Don’t try for relief, look instead for the truth!

We are all wounded healers on the way to completion, entering our wholeness just beneath the surface of our superficial attachments and holdings. … As we live our lives in the lab, life itself becomes an experiment in the truth of our being.]

from Harry Emerson Fosdick

[Nobody ever finds a life worth living.  One has to make it worth living.  All the people to whom life has been abundantly worth living have made it so by [making] an interior, creative, and spiritual contribution of their own back to life and to others.

Is life worth living?  Most people seem to think that is a question about the Cosmos, or about God.  No, my friends, that is a question about the inside attitude of you and me.]
Our Deepest Fear     Marianne Williamson quoted by Nelson Mandela

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that frightens us.

We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous…

Actually, who are you not to be??

You are a child of God. You’re playing small doesn’t serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you.

We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.

And it is not just in some of us, it’s in everyone.

As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fears, our presence automatically liberates others.

 

 

  Its Time

               It’s time that we understand our role as stewards of this planet,

                 That we respect and honor the delicate balance of our world

    It’s time that we realize, “We are all one people”,

            That separateness is an illusion and that, in truth, we are all connected.

               It’s time that we see past the veil of illusion called separateness,

                    and understand just how connected we really are,

               That we are all made from the same substance of the universe,

                  and by harming another, we are only harming ourselves.

           It’s time that we see past the color of one’s skin or the name of one’s God,

        That we realize we are merely traveling parallel paths leading up the same mountain.

               It’s time that we stop searching for happiness outside ourselves,

           That we turn our attention inward and tune into the calm peace of our soul.

             It’s time that we take responsibility for making the world a better place,

         That we strengthen the foundation of our communities by being of good character.

                   It’s time that we ask, “how can I make a difference?”,

              That we leave this world in a little better shape than when we arrived

              It’s time that we listen to each other with empathy and compassion,

       That we overcome the fear in our mind so that we can experience the love in our heart.

           It’s time that we get past our ego and discover our innate spiritual essence,

         That we realize our selfish desires and serve humankind unconditionally, with love.

                         It’s time that we “Love all, serve all”,   That we be at peace.

                                                                     ITS TIME

The Contented Fisherman

One day, a rich industrialist drove up to the edge of the ocean to admire the view… there, under a shady tree, with his fishing pole in his hand, he saw a young fisherman lying lazily beside his boat…

He got out of his limousine, and walked over to the young fisherman and questioned him… in a direct tone of voice, he asked ” Why aren’t you out fishing today???

It is still early, and you should be still hard at work…!

” The fisherman said, ” I have already caught enough fish for the day”

The rich man pushed further” Why aren’t you eager to stay out and catch more?? The fisherman replied, ” What would I do with anymore?”

You could sell it and earn money, was the industrialist’s reply. Then, you could buy a motor, fix up your boat or buy a bigger one, and then be able to go out long distances, into deeper water, and catch even more fish! Then you would make enough money to buy nylon nets, so you can catch more fish, and make more money. Then you could hire workers and buy another boat… maybe a whole fleet of fishing boats! Then you would become a rich man like me.”

What would I do then? asked the fisherman.

Then you could relax and really enjoy life said the rich man.

What do you think I am doing right now??

Question: Which would you rather have: a fortune in your future or the capacity to enjoy life in the here and now?

 

 

 

A Parable on Modern Life

The animals all met in an assembly and began to complain that humans were always taking things from them….

 

 

“They take my milk,” said the cow. “They take my eggs”, said the chicken. “They take my flesh for bacon”, said the pig. “They hunt me for oil”, said the whale…

Finally, the snail spoke up… “I have something that they certainly would take away from me if they could. It is something that would make them very rich and it is something that they want more than anything in their lives…” The other animals then looked at the snail, and the snail said,

” I have time” The morale of the story: You can have all the time you need in the world, IF you are willing to give it to yourself. Ask yourself: What stops you?  What thoughts and feelings rob you of your peace and your time? How does the use of time in our world influence your sense of freedom and true wealth?

 

Boxing Day: December 26th or the Day After…

December 26, 2011 - 1:43 pm 11 Comments

December 26th; Reflections for the Day After…

Boxing Day and the Feast of St. Stephen

The Rev. Peter E. Lanzillotta, Ph.D.

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Well, it over… all the hoopla, feverish shopping, frantic decorating, elaborate entertaining, and all those droning MUSAK singing or the belching of carols by rock and rap stars…. Peace on Earth …at last! BAH HUMBUG!  But for you die-hards… Remember that there is only 364 shopping days left before it all comes again!

From a pastoral perspective, the question of what does one talk about after Christmas is a challenging one… All the energies of young and old have gone into the last 24 hours  which is the biggest commercial event and the greatest media hype of the whole year! I am glad you had enough strength, and yes, enough faith, to get here today.

You see, December 26th, is also an important day in the worship year, yet little is made of it in today’s churches.

“Good King Wenceslaus went out, on the feast of Stephen,”  is the Christmas time carol that reminds us that Christmas, its emotional importance and shining spirit lasts longer than any decorated tree and goes deeper into the human heart than any material gift can penetrate. To my wide, yet reverent reckoning, each December 26th can celebrate or acknowledge 3 additional days when spiritual ideals can be better understood and practiced. The three remembrances for this day are FEAST DAY of SAINT STEPHEN, BOXING DAY; and of TURTLEDOVE  DAY!

Let’s first summarize the historical reference and then work towards a modern and more inclusive consideration….

The central theme for traditional and liturgical Christians on this day is the message and life story of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Who or what is a martyr?

 

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A martyr is someone who lives on the extremities of one’s faith- feeling compelled to embody an absolute idealism, while disregarding, and sometimes defying, the powers and pressures of conformity within society, religion, and belief. For martyrs nothing is as essential, as important as one’s belief or one’s faith. No one or no thing can threaten their connection to their God, and so as history and its iconic stories testify, only physical death appears to stop the immediate influence and profession of their faith. But their story rarely ends in death- sometimes its only the beginning….

A martyr’s devotion and attending nobility of character would often become legend, myth, and the subject of folk tales and dramas. This popularity along with the reverence and nobility of their lives sometimes passed the exclusive tests for the miraculous, and these rare but imperfect men and women of God became sainted, and then as role models for future generations who took up their cause, and renewed the work that promoted their vision in our world. …. I am sure that each of you could name others who, in your own compassionate thought and by the example of their convictions, exemplify lasting or transcendent values and beliefs…

Why is this day significant? This day was one of the first holidays or holy days set aside for remembrance by The Early Church. It was set a century or two before the bishops and the political hierarchies established the modern calendar or from when they created the church year, that was edited from original events and then traditionally created to begin with Advent. It was also before it was arbitrarily decided to celebrate Jesus’s birth on December 25th. (the actual date and time of his birth remains unknown… best estimates range from early February to mid March… Lambing time in Palestine…)

 

 

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Additionally, for the first 3 to 400 years of its existence, the Early Church held their “Christmas” on Baptism Day or Epiphany, when God, through Jesus as the Christ, was acknowledged to the outside world, and when divinity came publicly alive in and through the humanity of Jesus.

So, over the development of the Christian year as handed down to mainline Christians and accepted as our Western religious calendar, it became quite ironic that the modern date for Christmas and the celebration of a Savior’s birth, was followed immediately by commemorating the death of the first Christian martyr.  What can we make of this liturgical and cultural irony? How can we use it and how can it inform our faith and deepen our holiday devotions?

As the first of a pair of ironic juxtapositions during the Christmas season, (The second being the 27th -St. John, the apostle of unconditional love, the only apostle who did not die a tragic or cruel death, (after surviving being poisoned) followed by the 28th- the Commemoration of the slaughter by Herod of The Holy Innocents)  Q’s: What might these paradoxical recognitions in our calendar be saying to us about the preciousness of life? Or the inevitability of death? Could it be that one’s faith makes both life and death meaningful? In the second pairing, is the lesson that the shadow side of love is power? So we have the terrible injustices of ego driven power contrasted to the qualities of unconditional love?

Here then, are some brief reflections on St. Stephen.  Stephen was one of the early heroes in the book of Acts. He was put to death by religious zealots and fundamentalist rabbinical students. (Another incredible irony…

 

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In some accounts, we find a rabid persecutor of Stephen was named Saul of Tarsus, who, over the course time, while on the road to Damascus, becomes blinded and then transformed into St. Paul…)

Q: Does that say something symbolically about blindness and transformation? Is there a difference between having sight and having vision?)

Now, these fundamentalists of that day felt completely justified in saying that Stephen was to be punished and that stoning was fit punishment for what they judged to be heresy and for the crime of blasphemy against their version of the  Jewish teachings.

Remember, Stephen was killed for his assertion that the polite, conservative well to do Jews of that era were being disloyal to the teachings of the Prophets, and that since they would not listen to them, Jesus came to them to teach them the way towards God… But they would not listen to Jesus either…

So Stephen angered them with his honesty! Stephen being a religious radical (the word radical used here means someone who goes to the root of an idea, issue, or belief…) Which most often means that he or she will hold outlooks and convictions that upset the status quo and directly challenge the safe, secure ways of conventional religion….

Now, December 26th has another important meaning- a more generous and compassionate one… So on to the remembrance of Boxing Day…. for it observance teaches about honoring humility and having gratitude for services that are provided for you by others.

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Boxing Day is an early Victorian celebration(?) that is still maintained and observed in parts of the British Isles, Canada, and the old empire such as Australia- our closest cultural, and religious ancestors.

Now to avoid any confusion or misinformation: While its long been known that the Irish, Welsh, and Scots are all a scrappy bunch, and have always tried to give the English Crown and the Parliament an uppercut or two, this day has nothing to do with boxing, fisticuffs, or pugilism! All we do know is that it is a holiday celebrated all across what once was called the British Empire, from England to New Zealand!

So what is Boxing Day? As elementary as the answer might  seem, even Sherlock Holmes would have been stumped trying to find its exact origins… No one is completely sure how it all began! To our best reckoning, Boxing Day recalls the an uncertain date and time when public servants would carry a metal box with them as they made their appointed rounds or waited on their usual customers. This box was where they would put their hard earned pence, tuppence, any money gifts they might receive. If at all fortunate, this day after Christmas was the day when the aristocracy or the more affluent merchants would offer a half a crown or some gift to them for a year’s good service. A modern variation is the money card, or some kind of a gift certificate as a token of appreciation.

After the gift exchanges of the holiday, the Lord and Lady of the Manor would gather up their older belongings, and make presents of these fine quality castoffs to their servants. Most often these “extras” included food leftovers, millenary goods, gleanings from the harvest, and whatever did not sell from their sponsored artisans such as leather goods or pottery.

 

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Later, during Victorian times, Boxing Day was popularized and became part of the Dickinsonian world. While it was more gentle, it nevertheless remained quite firm about maintaining the hierarchies of the culture with all its manners and mores.

This day gave witness to a less than harsh feeling of serf and master. This day was commemorated by remembering the unselfish service and caring they received as the aristocracy- and in some ways was a holiday concession or a symbolic acknowledgment of how they showed some pity and compassion. This is the retrospective yet noble sentiment forms the altruistic, possible background and the historical significance of the post Christmas carol,

“Good King Wenseslaus”…

What kinds of people were specially remembered on Boxing Day?  As the Old English nursery rhyme goes, “The Butcher, the Baker, and the Candlestick Maker…”  But all public servants qualify.  Helpers and servers such as the mail carriers, paper boys, the train conductors, and ticket tenders; butlers, maids, the gardener, the nurses and nannies, the parson or the vicar, and of course, the local constable and the fire brigade… In short, all the people who made your life a little easier, cleaner, more enjoyable, and more safe. If you happen to maintain a relationship or at least exchange friendly feelings with any of these public servants, this is the day to offer recognition with some appreciation, or a little thank you gift.

How can we promote and redeem this day in our world? Concerning the ongoing need for recognition and appreciation, or to help correct the social attitude that lets some people  be taken for granted, Boxing Day might well be a holiday for progressive and compassionate people to encourage and earnestly celebrate. As far as I understand it, and try to practice it,

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sincere expressions of gratitude are always in season, and such caring is a clear sign that a person understands the gifts of life and that charity and caring are an expression of one of the chief Western values and virtues: practicing hospitality.

Hospitality is applying one’s faith and one’s gratitude for life by providing for others. As the Scriptures remind us, practice hospitality; for by caring about others, you are entertaining angels unawares.” It is a virtue that emphasizes the need for cooperation among family and church members, our neighbors, local town people. On a deeper level, these activities of Boxing Day are a part of our heartfelt witness, and provide us with tangible and workable steps we can take to promote more kindness in our world.

From our poetic and transcendental tradition, we can remember some of the inspirational statements that were regular readings in churches in the last century. We have The Vision of Sir Laurenfal and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote in his essay on Compensation are today’s examples

The Vision of Sir Launfal was a sympathetic and insightful spiritually inspired poem that purpose or them was to stir compassion in its readers or listeners:

“The gift without the giver is bare… A gift given in love feeds three: Himself, his hungering neighbor, and Me.”

And to paraphrase Emerson and combining it with lines from another essay, we can read:

“The greatest gift anyone can ever give another person is a portion of ones self. Without the efforts of giving or including a personal portion within a gift, it can become heartless- the exchange of simple commerce.”

 

 

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As I see it, Boxing Day remembered is both an act of charity and an act of faith; it is showing appreciation and it is an expression of humility as well as acting to defy or take a stand against crassness, materialism, and cheap celebration.

In some very important ways, extending Christmas to include at least one more day, extends the effects of genuine caring in our world- acknowledging the fullness and the rightness of honoring others who make our lives easier, and more safe.

Can I summarize all the potential meaning of this day after? Well, let me try…. In an all too facile and fractious  world where the Christmas spirit dies very quickly, when the music is rudely discarded, or when there is a mad rush to exchange all the gifts that are unwanted, we can remain inspired by the sacrifice of Stephen, who earnestly tried to live out his ideals, and we can remember the gracious generosity of Boxing Day with its loving kindness, and to know that expressions of love, integrity, sacrifice, and caring are always in season!

Being joyful and offering tidings of comfort and joy during this season is a good start, but the spiritual aspiration is found in the task to remain joyful and being willing to work for more reasons to celebrate the good of God in your lives and the good that can be found in this church community all year long… That might be the true prize and the best present… For it represents the greatest gifts we can give to one another. AMEN

Selected reading:  Reflection on St. Stephen

“Good King Wenceslaus went out, on the feast of Stephen,”  is the Christmas time carol that reminds us that Christmas, its emotional importance and shining spirit lasts longer than any decorated tree and goes deeper into the human heart than any material gift can penetrate. From the life of St. Stephen, we can receive many timeless, season long insights. As one person who has reflected on this seasonal irony, where birth is immediately followed by death, and how it has affected her life said to me:

“‘The kind of love that would have brought Christ to earth, also would raise Stephen to heaven. anyone who walks in love can’t go astray nor remain afraid. Love guides both birth and death, it protects us at our beginnings and comforts and completes us at our end.”

Stephen was a fearless and forgiving witness, extending the message of Jesus and starts our yearlong, lifelong appreciation of his message to humankind… May we continue the joy of Christmas beyond a day, and carry its message of redeeming love and selfless service into everyday of the year.

Yet As spiritual people living within human society, we can affirm that one’s integrity and one’s commitment to their ethical and spiritual ideals becomes one of only a few things that will give you any sense of completeness or satisfaction…

Being willing to live or give birth to one’s faith… And being willing to lose or die for one’s sense of integrity and   wholeness can never be undervalued.

From the life of St. Stephen, we can receive many timeless, season long insights. As one person who has reflected on this seasonal irony, where birth is immediately followed by death, and how it has affected her life said to me:

“The kind of love that would have brought Christ to earth, also would raise Stephen to heaven. Anyone who walks in love or who lives a life of such integrity can’t go astray nor remain afraid. Love then can be seen as guiding both birth and death, it protects us at our beginnings and comforts and completes us at our end.”

Stephen was a fearless and forgiving witness, extending the message of Jesus and his remembrance starts our yearlong, lifelong appreciation of the Christian message to humankind… May we continue the joy of Christmas beyond a day, and carry its message of redeeming love and selfless service into everyday of the year.

 

Pastoral Prayer:

Holy God, who has given us all of our days of life;

We ask that, following each day in Your example, we do not quickly lose the selfless spirit of Christmas. In Stephen’s life, we see Jesus repeated, and our need emphasized. We pray to be brave and forgiving like they both were. May our search for understanding deepen our search for faith, and provide comfort and console us in times of trial and testing.

May we, like Jesus and Stephen, be willing to bear sorrow and joy, despair and hope, and to live…  and perhaps be willing to die for your Righteousness sake. Let us enter into the silence….. Peace be to all struggling hearts, peace be with you…

Some Christmas Thoughts and Prayers

December 19, 2011 - 4:14 pm 14 Comments

Some Thoughts and Prayers for Christmas

May we be reminded this Christmas of seeking to fulfill the gift of presence… And how to live out Christmas gifts his year

To be present or have a beneficial presence within our parenting, to be present with our compassion for others, and to be positive and present with any and all expressions of caring for one another…

 

What is Christmas All About?

Let us affirm, in Mary’s name, that Christmas is all about the gift of love given to all of us; It is about being of service to the child, and to all our children; Its all about being and living as a benefit to all humankind, starting with Christmas and all year long…

The Promise and The Hope

When God wants an important thing done in this world, or when there is a wrong that needs to be righted, God goes about it in a very singular and consistent way… No, God does not release vengeful thunderbolts or disastrous earthquakes to punish or to beset us- God seeks justice, wisdom and compassion.

God simply has a tiny baby born, perhaps to a humble mother and father…

And their guidance, perseverance, and desire to teach and serve, to love and to heal, they put the idea of love and the ideals of justice into that child’s heart. Then God waits…

The great and significant events of this world are not found in recounting the fierce battles, the close elections, or in surviving natural disasters. The great events happen every day, every few minutes, when a child is born…

Each child born comes to us with a message that God is not yet discouraged with humanity, but is still expecting good will to become incarnate in and through each human life…

 

 

Thoughts after reading The Magnificat ( Ave Maria passage in Luke…)

One of the most enduring inner lessons we are given from Mary’s life is that we are all to live beyond our egos or any self serving ,personal desires. If we identify ourselves as being spiritual, then we are willing to open our hearts to human need. To the degree that our hearts are open, our actions will be compassionate. To the degree our hearts are willing, we make ourselves ready and willing to receive an improbable blessing…

Because many of our life experiences or relationships or challenges comes to us unexpectedly, or not when it would be convenient, does not invalidate its importance or is value for us. In fact, across the Myths and stories of faith that span all of humankind, it is the appearance of the improbable, the awkward, the uncomfortable, and the seemingly impossible that will often open up that which is spiritual and gracious for us…

A Christmas Grace

Dear God;

Whatever else be lost among the years, let us keep Christmas a shining thing:

Whatever doubts assail us, or what fears-Let us hold close one day, remembering

Its poignant meaning for the hearts of all mankind

Let us get back our childlike faith again.

Grace Neil Crowell

 

The Christmas Prayer of Pope John XXIII

O sweet child of Bethlehem, grant that we might share, with all our hearts, in the profound mystery of Christmas. Put into the hearts of {men and women} the desire for peace which the world seeks so desperately, and the peace that only an understanding of you can give.

Help us to know each other better, and to live as brothers and sisters of the same God. Reveal to them your beauty, holiness and purity. Awaken in their hearts, the love and gratitude for your infinite goodness.

Join them together in Your love. And give us Thy heavenly peace.   AMEN

Looking at The Origins of Advent and Christmas

December 1, 2011 - 1:37 pm 8 Comments

 

An Introduction to Western Spiritual Traditions: Advent & Christmas

Question for centering and reflection: How important are the origins of things? Does it seem important to know the original story before accepting its importance for you?

What is idolatry? Are you idolatrous? how does our confusion between spiritual values and societal expectations clash? In what ways can they be reconciled? How does one decide how best to keep and observe the holiday season?

 

Ancient Origins and The The Middle Eastern Experience;

Early Judaism and The Pagan cycles of nature; The Roman festivals, and pre-Christain practices

 

Our world is, for the most part, aligned with linear and time-bound thinking. It seems to generally follow a historical approach where each person, each event has a birth, a maturity, and a death- all in a neat arrangement of years throughout the centuries of civilization.

 

However, the ancient world and the world from which we receive our religious and spiritual teachings and instruction was a far different place. There the years of one’s life were bound tightly to the seasons of the year and the seasons of one’s soul.

 

This was not a simple, linear or mathematical progression; instead, there was an understanding that we are all a distinct yet unified part of the Cosmos- the divinely ordered pattern and design of life, death, and rebirth.

 

Originally, most religious festivals, holidays, and celebrations has their origin in the cycles of the seasons, and in the rhythms that exist between heaven and earth. The Sun and the seasons, when observed, gave     rise to patterning of planting and harvesting, and celebrations around significant events when the seasons changed.

 

 

 

These rhythms of seeding and harvesting, for example, gave us the origins for the rites of Spring, new life, hope and the the Rites of Harvest and Thanksgiving, abundant, gratitude, and preparation for the winter that lies ahead. When we extrapolate from these seasonal events, and place a spiritual and a religious meaning on to them, we find ourselves at the original meanings of the holidays people in the West celebrate & observe.

 

 

 

Early Judaism and Pagan cycles

 

In the Ancient Near  East, the world was populated by nomadic peoples and roving gods- it seemed as if each tribe or clan had a special deity that guided or admonished them. It was a polytheistic panoply of gods and goddesses, good and evil spirits, characters and consorts that populated the reality and the imagination of these tribal bands. from languages that differed, to the gods they worshipped, there was no unifying beliefs or themes apart from the celebration of seasonal changes. Most of the deities they would claim had direct connections to the weather patterns and the qualities and experiences a nomadic people would encounter- wind, water, sand, stars, and the moon… each being a special god or goddess that provides or punishes the people based on the outcome of natural phenomena such as having enough water to grow a successful crop so no one would starve.

 

At or around the year 2000 B.C., much of this religious and natural landscape changed. There was a dramatic shift in religious life and in the consciousness of the people who would become known as the Hebrews. They began a shifted in their religious beliefs , moving from a wide assortment of gods and goddesses that was still popular in great civilizations as Egypt, China, and Greece, to becoming more exclusively centered on one supreme God and forsaking or at least demoting all the others.

 

 

 

This parallels the loss of the matriarchy in primitive religions and the fall of the goddesses as being an equal to the god, and it also is CO-evolutionary to the origins and the dominance of the bicameral mind that now so dominates all of Western thought. From a left brain, male oriented world view, we come to the religious shift toward a supreme male god among the Hebrews called Yahweh.

 

Originally a storm or thunder and lightening God, Yahweh achieved supreme status over the others as the God who could be the most influential and the most powerful one among the many that were worshipped in the areas of Palestine and the Ancient Near East. In the world and beliefs of the Hebrew nations, their Yahweh replaced all the Assyrian gods and goddesses, all the Caananite festivals of seeding and harvesting, and all the Babylonian legends, myths and observances… not that they did not borrow from those traditions in their teaching stories, ethics, wisdom, or prayers … but they did manage to create the Western world’s first distinctively monotheistic religion, which by its very nature and teachings, can into conflict with the beliefs of the larger pagan world and all the festivals they observed.

 

What the ancient Hebrews and later, the early Christians chose to do was to try to eliminate any festivals and celebrations that they found too offensive, or whose practices were too sensual, explicit, or that might undermine the ethical standards they were trying hard to uphold or impose. If that strategy did not work, and the people and their ‘folk soul” required certain holidays, then these Western religious leaders hit upon a brilliant and prudent strategy- accommodation and alteration- give the people their festivals, but change their symbols slightly and change the meaning of the day to accommodate the belief system that they were trying to teach.

 

 

 

From this strategy, we, the children of this Western heritage, have received our many holidays and observances- each with a different meaning that their original observance and beliefs: from Halloween, to the Christmas tree, from  Candlemas to the Easter egg- each was an accommodation to a Pagan ritual that was reinterpreted to fit the Western Judeo- Christian calendar. ( more on all of these days later…)

 

A simple example; Setting the day for Christmas as December 25th… During Roman times, there were seasonal festivals linked with the Greco- Roman mythology and with the ancient Etruscans who first occupied much of Italy and the Adriatic world. There was also a wholesale adoption of the Mithras cult from Persia who was their god of the Sun.  After the Fall of the year, these early tribal indigenous peoples would mark the “dying” of the year or the time when darkness arrived early with the withdrawal of the Sun from their fields and from their lives, and the progress of the darkness  into the cold, harsh, often bleak winter. ( of course, the farther North you go, the more significant this cycle is- among the Celts, Teutons, and the Norse peoples, this is a highly dramatic, even life threatening event… by the way, they are the ones who gave us the Christmas tree, mistletoe, the red Santa, reindeer, snow men, and other fanciful delights…)

 

The Roman festival held during the winter solstice- the time when the days astronomically are the  shortest and the night the longest, was known as Saturnalia. Saturn was the great taskmaster and disciplinarian of the Gods; where ever humanity needed a correction, a karmic lesson, or some discipline, Saturn was usually there.

 

This dying of the year, with all its anxiety and foreboding had one redeeming factor associated with it. Since the ancient people had no complete or scientific understanding of the axial tilt and annual rotation of the Earth around the Sun, they attributed the reasons for the seasons as the grace and the blessings of the supernatural or of the Gods whims and favors towards humankind.

 

 

 

When the saw the days beginning to lengthen again, they interpreted it as the strength and the power of the Sun to over come Saturn, and the light, hope, warmth and joy would return to the Earth and to her people. They called this first day of lengthening Calends and it marked the festival also known as Sol Invictus- the Invincible Sun.

 

Later, when the Christians of the fourth century (336 ACE to be exact when they held the 1st midnight Mass) wanted to replace this holiday with one of their own, they neatly substituted the Sun for the SON- and chose the darkest time of the year for when the light of the world, Christ Jesus, would be born to all humanity… brilliant move?!!  What happened at Saturnalia?  On or approximately December 17th and lasting for a week or so, the celebration of the Sun’s return  was marked by acts of charity and kindness- debts and grudges were forgiven, wars interrupted or postponed, courts and businesses were closed; Slaves were given equality; and other benevolence… that is, until people caught on and confused this suspension of norms for a license to misbehave- soon, like the Mardi Gras, this festival once rooted in compassion, became a time of unbridled mischief and vice.

 

What does survive from those times was the custom of giving gifts to friends and family: especially dolls, waxed fruit, and candles.  At any rate, it was one change that has gone unchallenged by all except the scholars for the last 16  centuries. There was a calendar mistake that made it the 25th; it was to be the 21st on the shortest day; others, more mystical state that the sun stays or does not grow in light until the 25th… its a toss-up…( The Early Church- the church of the first three hundred years before the Councils and creeds and the cultural dominance of Christianity as the official state religion, did not celebrate Christmas in December- they chose Epiphany, January 6th as his “birth” day- most likely it was in either late February or early March- Astrological chart of Jesus of Nazareth presentation)

 

Actually, there is a good reason for all the confusion… the primary focus for the early Christians was on the life of Jesus, not his birth or even his death. Those events took on a greater meaning while contrary to what the early believers expected, he did not come back during their lifetimes or even during the next few generations! therefore, some new emphasis for faith had to be developed- one that rivaled the great myths of the Mediterranean where there was a special, even superhuman. Extraordinary birth and death accounts were created in order to instill faith and to encourage belief in the doctrines and decisions of the church and its influence and power in one’s life. That is one to main reasons there is so little accuracy in the story… and the fact, rightly so, that malicious rulers like Herod and Nero or Caligula would have certainly killed anyone who was born special or who could have been perceived to be a threat to their power and throne.

 

The main objections to pagan worship were these two, one of which is truly serious, and the other relative to culture and to the rules that religions try to establish over their members. The first or more objective and understandable reason, it was idolatrous- it placed other concerns, other gods, other allegiances and loyalties before the one supreme God of Israel, Yahweh. That was blasphemous! Yahweh was a jealous and exclusive God- he can have no rivals in one’s heart or in one’s life! ( The 1st Commandment)

 

The second reason was the objection to the behaviors associated with revels and partying that were far from the sober and serene approaches of the spiritual life. One cannot promote a religion that is taken seriously if there is too much fun, joy or rabble rousing associated with it!

 

There is also another corollary or a third reason. It was the teaching that God and humanity were somehow above, removed, or aloof from Nature- that our human task was to conquer or subdue the natural world- to tame it- but not to honor its rhythms & reasons – the essence of the Pagan lifestyle.

 

 

 

Remember, this detached, linear, rational religious world view was instituted and reinforced within the general patriarchal society and throughout the development of Western thought for the last 2000 years! Only in recent memory have these attitudes been challenged and found to be Unbiblical!  Only with the rise of scholarship and a greater understanding of our dependence on Nature and the grace of life itself have we begun to reap praise western teachings on the environment and on our place within the Cosmos of God’s creation. It is these insights and new understanding of spirit, society and self that I wish to outline for you tonight. ( definitions of Keep; Observe; Believe in their original meanings… What is the difference between a holiday and a holy day?  Sabbath time; reflection, etc.)   Questions????

 

Advent- Via Positiva- waiting; affirmation and gratitude from November through to Epiphany; The Archangel Gabriel- White w/ green and/or blue; way of the heart Symbols of light; Overcoming the darkness in oneself and in one’s world through the promise of the Chistchild being born in and among us all.